Whatever the problem, we have some simple tips to try to fix DVD or Blu-Ray drive errors.
Dust – An Optical Drive’s Worst Enemy
Even though a DVD or Blu-Ray drive is mostly enclosed, dust still has an opportunity to invade through small openings and also while the drive is open. This depends heavily on how dusty the environment is but it can really wreak havoc on a drive.
In my experience, when a drive gets dusty, a disc will either take a long time to read initially or it will show random errors and slowdowns while the disc is being read from.
It helps to know how a optical drive, such as a CD, DVD or Blu-Ray drive works to know why this happens. The disc is a round plastic disk with a shiny reflective coating on the top and several layers of plastic. The way data is read from the drive is that there is a tiny laser which shoots up onto the disc, and depending on the configuration of the plastic and reflective layer, data is returned and read back to the drive. In reality it is much more complicated than that, but at the core this is what is happening.
When dust gets into the drive, specifically around the laser, it can block or refract that light causing a number of errors to be returned, and make the drive and/or disc unreadable.
There are several ways to get rid of dust. The first is with compressed air. It is available at many stores and is very cheap to buy. You can also get a special optical drive cleaner disk. This is comprised of a disc with tiny little brushes on it. The DVD disc usually has a program on it to ensure that the laser read head will move over the brushes several times to clean off any dust.
Most of the time, the drive isn’t even the problem! Discs become scratched fairly easily and this can cause a lot of read problems on the drive. The way to check is two-fold:
- visually inspect the disc to see if there are any scratches.
- check the drive with another disc, alternatively try the disc in another drive.
Once you have confirmed the disc is scratched you can try a few things to fix the problem.
The first is to use a wet or dry cloth to clean the disc. Use circular motions to clean it, or wipe from out-to-inside or inside to out. Never wipe in the direction around the tracks, as this can cause track skippage and actually make the problem worse.
The second is to use some sort of abrasive compound, such as toothpaste (not gel) to grind out scratches. I’ve never actually used this method but I have heard it works well.
The final one, and preferred, is to use a motorized disc cleaner. They are available from retail stores for about $20-$30 and automate the above procedures for maximum effect. I think this is the safest way to clean a disk, as there is less chance of human error.
Is Your Firmware Old?
Sometimes there are bugs within the firmware of the optical drive. The firmware is like an operating system for the drive, telling it when to spin, where to move the read/write head, and so on. Sometimes this is a last ditch effort but updating the firmware has raised several drives from the dead for me.
Check the manufacturer’s website to see if there are firmware updates. It might involve burning a CD with the firmware and rebooting the computer or player off of the disc, or there might be a way to update it right in your normal OS – it just depends on the manufacturer’s process.
If you have a Blu-Ray drive – in your PC or as a Home Theater component – then there is a good chance you will need to flash new firmware. This is due to the encryption keys stored on the drive. New protections are put out all of the time on new discs and if you have an older drive you simply might not have the right keys to decrypt the disc. A sign of this is if you have no problem playing older Blu-Rays, but new ones simply don’t work.
Is It A Hardware Problem?
Finally if all else fails, you could simply have a hardware problem. This goes anywhere from a cable that was unseated, to a bad drive or motherboard connection somewhere down the line.
The first step is to try a new cable and connection port on the motherboard to see if that fixes your problem. If it doesn’t you can try to plug another know-good drive in to see if the problem is coming from the old drive or the motherboard.
If it turns out that your DVD or Blu-Ray drive is bad, then it is bad. You can try to send it in for warranty service, but depending on the age of the drive and how much it would cost to replace it, it could just make sense to buy a new one. Buying a new one has other benefits: faster access times, transfer speeds and new features.
Whatever the issue, the steps above should be enough to try to fix your DVD drive on your own. Let us know your own tips and tricks to reviving zombie DVD drives!